County gets Stepping Up funds

Published 5:17 pm Friday, July 26, 2019

LaFAYETTE — Chambers County will soon be able to provide mental health services to inmates at the Chambers County Jail.

Chambers County Commissioner Debra Riley said the county will receive $60,000 in state funds to work with East Alabama Mental Health to send a social worker into the jail. The social worker will examine incoming inmates struggling with mental health.

The program is called the Stepping Up Initiative to Reduce the Number of People with Mental Illnesses in Jails but is shortened to Stepping Up.

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Although the funds haven’t been dispersed as of Friday, Riley said once the money is there, the county has one year to collect as much data as possible.

The beginning of that process will start with East Alabama Mental Health hiring the social worker, training them and then getting them acclimated to the Chambers County Jail.

Riley said she hopes the social worker will begin seeing inmates by early September.

The program asks the court system to take a look at everyone booked into the county jail and ask them assessment questions. If needed, the social worker will further examine the inmate to see if they need additional services.

Riley has said this program is necessary because once a person is booked in jail, they lose access to their medication and even if they are released, they must go back through the process of getting prescribed again. However, through this program, not only will those inmates get examined, but they will also get the treatment needed.

Additionally, the social worker hired by East Alabama Mental Health will work with a nurse through the county to examine inmates who are currently in jail before this program starts.

Also, as part of the program, a team will collect and review numbers to assess needs while identifying individuals entering the jail system with mental illnesses and their recidivism risk. The team will use that information to guide decision making with the jail system.

The county will also be tasked with examining treatment options and determining what programs and services are available to those in the county with mental illnesses while identifying barriers on getting such treatment.

Chambers County Sheriff’s Office Major Mike Parrish said the sheriff’s office is 100 percent behind the program.

“The problem we have, as does every jail in the country, is that we are overpopulated with people who have mental problems, and it is hard to get anybody the treatment they need,” he said. “We see this as being a means to get to that.”

He said many of the inmates who need mental health services could be dangerous and even those who are not dangerous can become dangerous if not properly medicated.

“We are not a mental health facility, and we can’t provide them the help they need,” Parrish said.

When an inmate is booked, Parrish said they are eventually sent to East Alabama Mental Health for treatment as needed but that process can sometimes take months.

“It puts the county in a bad place because we are stuck holding them, and at times, it puts us in a position where we don’t want to use force against them, but we have to in order to protect our staff,” Parrish said.

Once the year is up, Riley said the county will have to decide if it wants to fund the program itself. She said there could be state funding available, but it’s not a guarantee.

“I am excited about it,” Riley said. “I hope the program will work for us, and maybe the county commission will be able to put some money toward it and get some people the help they need.”

If there are no funding opportunities in a year, Riley said she would likely propose something to the commission to continue funding the program.